Michael Cox, who recently completed his year as The Master of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, followed in the footsteps of previous Master Vintners by baptizing the MASTER’S CASK in the Graham’s 1890 Lodge on Thursday October 24th, whilst on a visit to Oporto and the Douro where he spent some time at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos. Like his uncle before him, Guy Gordon Clark O.B.E. (Master Vintner in 1989), Michael baptized the Master’s cask by throwing a glass of Graham’s Port against it (only after taking a sip beforehand). The ceremony at Graham’s dates back to 1928, when the visiting Master began this tradition at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge.
The Worshipful Company of Vintners is one of the oldest and most respected of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London, having received its first charter from Edward III in 1363. In 1928 it became the first of these venerable Guilds to make an overseas visit, namely to Portugal. The visit, which did much to rekindle the interest of the British in Port, also enhanced the prestige of the Vintners, demonstrating how it could further the interests of the United Kingdom Wine Trade. Michael began his term as Master Vintner in the year the Company celebrated 650 years since receiving its first Royal charter.
Michael is one of the most well-liked and respected figures in the UK wine trade and comes from a long line of wine professionals; his great-great-great grandfather founded the successful wine importing business of Matthew Clark & Sons in 1810 (long time distributors of Graham’s Ports in the UK). His successful career led to his appointment as Wines of Chile Europe Director, a role in which he has excelled, having firmly established Chilean wines amongst the most popular and admired by the British wine consumer. In 2010 and in recognition for his services, President Piñera of Chile made Michael a Commander of the Order of Merit of Chile, the highest honour that can be bestowed to a non-Chilean.
The 2013 vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos lasted for three weeks; we started picking at Graham’s neighbouring Quinta do Tua on Monday, September 23rd and at Malvedos itself the next day. Harvesting of all the grapes was concluded by Sunday, October 13th, the last grapes (Touriga Franca) arriving at the Malvedos winery also coming from Quinta do Tua. Over this three week period Henry and his team worked flat out with few pauses, often well into the night (or through the night…) to ensure that they turned the high quality grapes into the best possible Graham’s Port wines. You can’t put a fermentation ‘on hold’, while you go off for a good night’s sleep, and our team had to organize itself to work the usual round the clock shifts. Exhausting, but rewarding.
Roughly speaking we can describe the vintage at Malvedos as follows: one week of rain sandwiched between two weeks of dry, sunny conditions. In other words, the vintage got off to a perfect start, with 5 days of glorious sunny weather (average temperature at Malvedos for September was 25º C), ideal for picking and for the ongoing maturation of the late-ripening varieties. Conditions then changed as rain made an appearance at Malvedos from the 27th, coming and going over a 6 day period (56mm in total). Fortunately, this precipitation was evenly spread in the form of showers interspersed with drier intervals meaning the grapes didn’t suddenly soak up too much water.
Frequent monitoring of detailed weather forecasts by Graham’s head winemaker, Charles Symington, translated into picking schedules being switched around on an almost daily basis to circumvent any possible risks posed by the expected rain. Thus, Charles and Henry brought forward by a few days the picking of the Malvedos Touriga Nacional crop, a decision that proved spot on because over 90% of it was picked before the rain arrived. In a similar vein it was decided to leave the (still ripening) Touriga Franca grapes on the vines until the rain stopped and again this proved a good decision because they then benefitted from up to 10 days of dry, sunny weather, thus completing their maturations very satisfactorily. This cat and mouse tussle with the weather worked out in our favour and it all came down to the resourcefulness and resilience of our winemaking and viticulture crews. Flexibility was key throughout.
It is of course premature to produce a full and balanced assessment of the wines made but it is safe to say that Charles and Henry believe that at Malvedos, despite the weather challenges referred to above, we came through pretty much unscathed and some very fine Ports have been made, largely through the very good showing of the Tourigas — the Nacional and the Franca, which — combined — make up 49% of the Malvedos vineyard.
Just after the last grapes were received at the winery on Sunday, October 13th, Paul Symington, Graham’s Joint Managing director, observed tradition and hosted the entire team involved with the vintage at the grass terrace of the house, where food and drinks were enjoyed by all in a relaxed, celebratory mood. Paul thanked everybody for their usual commitment and enthusiasm and reminded everyone that “we’ll do it all over again next year!”
Also in keeping with tradition, Henry and his crew enjoyed their usual end of vintage dinner at the Calça Curta restaurant in the nearby hamlet of Tua. To recharge their batteries, the menu included the usual house specialities: arroz de polvo (octopus rice) and large steaks, both enjoyed with some very good wines.
Henry Shotton gives his latest report from the Malvedos winery:
I’m tempted to call this last week the ‘Touriga Franca week’, so encouraged are we by the quality of the grapes as seen coming into the winery these last few days. The Touriga Franca is a late – ripening variety because it needs a great deal of sun and heat to fulfil its full maturation potential. This vintage began unusually late but that didn’t mean that we could start picking the Franca almost straight away — both because grape maturations generally were running late this year anyway (hence the delayed start to the vintage) but also because of the rainfall that visited when we were about a week into the vintage. That set back even a little further the completion of the full maturation cycle of the Touriga Franca.
Thankfully the rain did not persist and once clear blue skies and warm temperatures returned over a week ago, Charles wisely decided to hold off a few days before giving the order to start picking the Franca, allowing it time to benefit from several days of bright, warm sunny conditions. This has meant the TF (the most widely planted at Malvedos — 27% of the vineyard — and one of Port’s most important varieties) has had time to recoup it’s full potential which was showing such promise before the onset of the rain. The grapes are wonderfully ripe and concentrated, showing superb deep colour, soft skins (which eases extraction) and excellent sugar readings. The first TF grapes that we received from the Malvedos vineyard on Tuesday, October 8th were already giving us very good readings of 13.5º Baumé and as the week progressed, the values steadily increased to 14, and the latest lagar (filled yesterday, Thursday 10th) registered an impressive 14.5º Baumé. It is a pleasure to witness the deep colour of this lagar and sense its expressive, fresh and floral aromas.
Charles commented today (Friday October 11th) at the winery that he is particularly impressed with the “exceptional colour of the Franca” (not always achieved by this variety, as Charles stressed) and also by its low yields which have delivered superb concentration. He explained that when the vintage started, the TF was already well advanced in terms of the phenolics but more time was needed for the sugar levels to catch up in order to reach a full, balanced ripening. The fact we waited to start picking a few days after the rain stopped benefitted the Franca enormously by allowing it to complete it’s optimal maturation cycle, Charles explained. We will conclude picking the Franca on Monday, which effectively means we will have finished picking all the grapes at Malvedos. After that we still have a few days to conclude some fermentations in the lagares and to wind things down (post vintage cleaning, repairs and maintenance).
Earlier in the week Charles and I also did the rounds of the two Graham’s Quintas that we haven’t had a chance to report on previously during this vintage; Vila Velha and Lages.
Lages: The caseiro (farm manager) of 24 years at Lages, Sr. António, was very upbeat about the quality of the grapes picked at the Quinta this vintage. He told us that notwithstanding the rain, the quality of the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca was very pleasing (22 and 21% of Lages, respectively). Our winemaking team confirmed the caseiro’s optimism reporting average graduations of 14º Baumé. That’s hard to beat. The Tinta Barroca topped the scales, occasionally showing 15º Baumé, but that is not at all unusual for this variety. On the day we called, a roga (team of grape pickers) of 14 people was picking the Telheira block, vertically planted (very unusual in our vineyards) with young Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca vines. Despite the young age of the vines, the grape bunches and the berries themselves had a good size and showed wonderful deep blue-violet coloured skins.
The last grapes scheduled to be picked at Lages on Monday, October 14th will be from the organically farmed 4 hectare block, which was planted in 1989 with mixed varieties (consisting primarily of Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz). These grapes are earmarked for Graham’s Natura Reserve Port, one of the first Ports made with organically farmed grapes.
Vila Velha: the vintage at Vila Velha finished on Tuesday October 8th, the first Graham’s Quinta to conclude its grape picking. Vila Velha has the highest percentage of Touriga Franca planted of any Graham’s Quinta (31%) and, as seen at other Graham’s vineyards, some very good lagares have been made from these grapes, although we had to be a little more selective because here, the rain did create a few problems in some of the more sheltered blocks (less exposed to the sun), of which — fortunately — there are very few.
The threat of rain has been constant during this last week. Charles and Henry Shotton have had to review daily the decision regarding the picking order of the various grape varieties. It has been like a game of musical chairs, trying not to get caught out by the weather and ensuring that our grapes are picked in the best possible condition.
Fortunately the weather changed on Thursday, October 3rd, the first day with no rain for a week. Friday started out a little overcast but this was mainly morning mist, which disappeared as the sun rose over the mountains. The afternoon temperature at Malvedos climbed to 24ºC, just what was needed to dry the grape bunches and to encourage the full maturation of our Touriga Franca, a late-ripening variety (27% of the Malvedos vineyard is Touriga Franca).
Today, Saturday October 5th is a lovely sunny day and the forecast for the next week could not be better — clear sunny skies with afternoon temperatures forecast to be above 20ºC. We could not ask for a better forecast.
Henry Shotton reports on the last few days at Malvedos:
Wednesday October 2nd
07h30: The sky has some blue patches and the weather is definitely improving although the temperature is cooler. Some rain came down between 4 and 6.30 this morning. However from tomorrow, the forecast says that the clouds will clear up completely.We finished picking the Síbio blocks today and despite the showers we are pleased to register pretty good graduations, higher than expected given the wet conditions. Tomorrow we will pick the Tinto Cão and some Tinta Roriz which will fill a single lagar and will be fermented together. Tonight we will tread the last Síbio lagar picked today.
Thursday October 3rd
Through the day the patches of cloud finally cleared up and even more importantly, we had a constant wind blowing strongly up the valley. This was welcome as it helped to dry the grape bunches. With the sunny conditions, this dry wind brought forward the possibility of concluding the harvesting of the remainder of our Touriga Nacional grapes. Before we do that however, we will today be picking Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz, which we will also ferment in one lagar.
After lunch, Charles and I did the rounds of both Malvedos and Tua to set the picking order for the next few days. Despite the rain we are very encouraged to note that there are no signs of rot, the grapes have withstood the rain remarkably well. One of the advantages of our mountain vineyards is that when it rains, a fair proportion of the water runs down the steep hillsides before it has time to infiltrate the soil.
Tonight we will be treading a mixed lagar of Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz. Tomorrow we will pick the remaining Roriz which we will ferment with Tinta Barroca, making a wine that will be very interesting in due course.
While we have been very busy making wine, we have also had several visitors: from Russia, Taiwan and Germany. All in a day’s work…
Friday October 4th
Today a couple of my colleagues came by for lunch, bringing with them a guest who will spend the weekend at the Quinta. Her name is Sancha Trindade, a leading Portuguese blogger and freelance journalist. Sancha spent most of the afternoon at the winery and helped the winery team unload the grapes coming in from the vineyard and she took turns on the sorting table, learning how to identify any less acceptable bunches and berries of Tinta Roriz.
Saturday October 5th
We made a very early start with Sr. Arlindo, our caseiro, driving up to the Touriga Nacional blocks on the higher part of the Quinta. We resumed picking the TN this morning because of the much better conditions. The Touriga Nacional is looking beautifully ripe and healthy.
Since the last report, posted late Friday evening, the common denominator of the last three days has been overcast skies and rain; 25.7mm at Malvedos from Friday through to Monday — that’s more precipitation in 4 days than was recorded for the months of June, July and August combined.
Henry Shotton’s day-by-day account:
Saturday, September 28th
Most of the rainfall referred to above began to come down during dinner time on Friday the 27th and continued into the night of the 28th. The morning started with some scattered showers interspersed with bright patches up until lunchtime. Similar pattern during the afternoon — a few showers with bright sunny intervals. A plentiful 20.7 mm of rain came down between 9am Friday and 9am Saturday.
Today the pickers have gone back to Quinta do Tua to pick the Sousão. Should the yields prove too low to fill a lagar then it will be topped up with Touriga Nacional, also from Tua. Fewer pickers showed up today – 20 people in total as opposed to the normal 24-25, most likely put off by the abundant rain during the night. Tomorrow, Sunday, there are local government elections and we fear that some of the pickers won’t turn up and that we will therefore pick less and not be able to fill a lagar.
Sunday, September 29th
Walked towards the winery at 07:30 under cover of dark grey clouds, which in the event discharged a paltry 1.8mm during the whole day.
Predictably, only 11 people showed up this morning for picking because many of the team understandably decided to exercise their right to vote in the local government elections. The bottom line is we’ll pick less grapes today. Tomorrow the roga will move to Quinta do Síbio, the adjoining property, which was acquired last year and incorporated into Malvedos. Síbio is planted with ‘MC’ — Mistura de Castas (mixed varieties) — all planted in 1990, hence now a mature vineyard with 23 years. By the looks of things yields will be low.
The lagar from Tua trodden last night (55% Touriga Nacional & 45% Sousão) gave an excellent 13.55º Baumé and displayed a deep purple colour. Today we are plunging the cap (immersing the skins of the grapes back into the must) of the now fermenting lagar of Sousão and Touriga Nacional grapes. This co-fermented lagar is showing a superb deep colour.
Monday, September 30th
A distinctly warmer feel this morning, although still overcast. At least there was no need to wear a sweater. Today, Sr. Arlindo and his roga will be harvesting grapes exclusively from the Síbio blocks (mixed varieties). This evening we started treading the first lagar from Síbio, and despite the rain, the graduations were excellent at 14.25º Baumé.
Tuesday, October 1st
Another start to the day with low-lying, rain-laden clouds, which released showers on and off during the morning and afternoon. However, we have received very good news from Charles Symington who has been closely monitoring the weather and the forecast for the next few days is for an end to the rain and the return of clear blue skies. Fingers crossed! The roga is continuing to pick the Síbio grapes all day today.
Our daily routine was briefly interrupted at about noon as the ‘Spirit of Chartwell’ quietly cruised by downriver, probably on its way to Porto. Readers will remember that this was the royal barge that carried the Queen and other members of the Royal Family during the Royal Pageant on the Thames, one of the high points of last year’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. Spirit of Chartwell was acquired by a Portuguese river cruise operator and and it has now become a familiar sight, plying the waters of the Douro.
Dominic Symington and Gonçalo Brito (who helps Dominic in the German market, among others) arrived by boat with a party of 7 guests from our German distributor for Graham’s: “Smart Wine”, which is based in Cologne. Following lunch at the house, the group visited the winery.
Tonight we will start treading our second lagar made up entirely of mixed grapes harvested from Síbio.